How to start preparing now to have a sustainable Christmas


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Christmas. Presents. Tearing open the wrapping paper and enjoying receiving items - only for interest to fade within days (or sometimes hours).

Many of us like to be generous at Christmas. We love seeing our children's faces light up with joy when they receive something they included in their letter to Santa. We love giving special presents to a spouse or significant other. (Christmas is also one of the most popular times for gifting engagement rings.)

And then there are presents for teachers, colleagues, staff and others you may wish to thank.

how to start preparing now for a sustainable christmas

The problem is that many of these presents go to waste. According to The Australia Institute, nearly one-third of Australians will receive a gift they never use.

The total value of these unwanted gifts amounts to $980 million - almost $1 billion. And much of this ends up in landfill, along with all the other Christmas-related paraphernalia.

How to reverse this trend? A good way is to focus on making Christmas sustainable. Here are seven top tips for an amazing, joyful and sustainable season.

1. Food, glorious food

Who doesn't like food, especially at Christmas? Even if you're not yourself indulging, you are likely entertaining, so food gifts will come in handy.

"Food gifts are a great option if you are watching [the budget], and also a big favourite for teachers, grandparents, and anyone that says 'Oh you don't have to get me anything,'" says decluttering and organising coach Lauren Winzar.

She suggests items such as gingerbread, fudge or chocolates, baked goods, a dry ingredients mix with a handwritten recipe and flavoured popcorn (with a favourite DVD attached).

Each year Mia Swainson, author of Happy Planet Living: Simple Ways to Live a Climate Positive Lifestyle & Make a Big Difference, lovingly picks fruits from her kitchen garden and makes jams and marmalade. Her preserves are a work of art and sought after by family and friends - and perfect for Boxing Day brunch.

2. Support a local author

Buy a book. Yes, making a book involves resources.

But physical books can be read and re-read, gifted and sold. Or you could gift a certificate to an online store such as Booktopia, which includes eBooks.

Creatives have done it tough during the last few years and need and welcome your support. And many titles promote sustainability - and also help improve financial literacy.

3. Experiences

What to give someone who has everything? Probably not more stuff, which could lead to more clutter.

Winzar suggests gifting experiences.

"The gifts that are least likely to be left to collect dust or be shoved into the back of a cupboard are consumable experiences," she says.

From movie tickets to theatre subscriptions and even sites like Redballoon, there are many ways you can gift people experiences. Even better: organise an experience where you can do something together to build your relationship by enjoying something together.

4. Op shop

Would you, could you, buy gifts from an op shop? I have done this for many, many years. And I will continue to do it.

Many op shops even have Christmas displays with gift items ready for purchase. I often find unique things not easily obtainable in retail shops - often brand new. And once something is beautifully wrapped, it will look so special that no one would even know you bought it for a bargain.

5. Gift wrapping

If you've ever cleaned up after Christmas Day, you know there is a lot of wrapping paper and materials. And sadly, much of it is not sustainable. That shiny, glittery wrapping might look great under the Christmas tree, but it is destined to lie in landfill for many years once the Christmas sparkle has lost its magic.

I like to use plain brown kraft paper. I spruce this up with ribbons (leftovers from other presents), or tie it with plain string and decorate with fresh ivy.

We also write the recipient's name directly onto the paper rather than using glittery gift cards (which usually fall off anyway). You can also use children's artwork that they have lost interest in - they may even be proud of using it. Or adopt the Japanese tradition of wrapping with cloth.

6. The sustainable table

We often want our Christmas table to look a bit special, especially if we are hosting people we might not have seen in a while.

But before you go out and spend a fortune on shiny, new objects that you might only use once, consider sustainable options. Could you make your own bon bons?

Rather than people receiving bits of plastic toys they will soon tire of, create your own with small tokens of things found at op shops or elsewhere. Invest in quality Christmas decorations and reuse them every year.

Or buy second-hand tree and table decorations. And celebrate the season by incorporating seasonal flowers (e.g. hydrangeas or agapanthus).

Christmas is a season for joy. The best gifts are meaningful. And the best events are ones where people come together with joy. And what is more joyful than celebrating sustainably?

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Serina Bird is a proud frugalista who has amassed more than a million dollars through frugal living. She is the author of several books including The Joyful Frugalista and The Joyful Startup Guide. Serina blogs at The Joyful Frugalista, and her podcast is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. She is also the founder of The Joyful Business Club. Her new book, How To Pay Your Mortgage Off in 10 Years is out now!